“Before, reviving our river seemed like an impossible dream. Today, we have learned how much can be done, if we all learn from each other.”

This is the battlecry of the 1st Philippine International River Summit which kicks off at Centennial Resort and Convention Center, Alta Tierra Village, Jaro district, Iloilo City May 30-June 1.

Bannering “My Rive, My Life,” the summit will showcase development projects being implemented in the waterway at the heart of the city including the ongoing multi-million peso Esplanade construction, dredging and relocation of informal settlers along the riverbank, among others.

“The recognitions for Iloilo River are a manifestation that we the Ilonggos should take good care of our river. It has given our ancestors life, it is giving us life, it will give life to our children, and our children’s children. We are blessed to have the abundance of the river. All we have to do is to rehabilitate, preserve and protect it,” stressed Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog. 

The forum highlights global challenges, issues and best practices in river management, set amidst the real-life learning laboratory of the Iloilo River Rehabilitation Project.

The conference features three key areas of interest including governance; rehabilitation, protection and restoration; and development.

The big event is being initiated by the City Government and supported by the Rivers of the World (ROW) Foundation, Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (EMB-DENR), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Petron Corp.

US-and-India-based ROW Foundation, a global group dedicated to restoring and protecting rivers and streams around the globe, aims to remedy the massive pollution created by the untreated discharges from the urban and suburban watersheds of various rivers and creeks. 

The Iloilo River is actually a 15-kilometer long estuarine, deriving fresh water from rivers and creeks that are connected to it and saline water from the sea that feeds it.

The waterway maintains a high level of productive biological activities as it serves as nursery for many important fish species such as bangus and tilapia while the rise and fall of tide makes it possible for nutrients such as planktons to circulate in and out of the estuary, according to studies.

Interestingly, the Iloilo River is home to 22 of the country’s 35 mangrove species.

The summit has been inspired by the Gold Award won by Iloilo River Development Project in the 2010 International Awards for Livable Communities (LivCom) in Chicago, USA and Silver Award for “A Post Livcom: Advancing the Iloilo River Development Initiatives through Integrated Sustainable Management” in 2011 LivCom in Songpa, Seoul, South Korea.  

Mabilog was optimistic the awards would serve as a tool in asking for grants from possible funding agencies for project implementation considering LivCom is endorsed by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

LivCom has considered the best practices for Iloilo River as an approach to sustainable development which encompasses enhancement of landscape, heritage management, environmentally-sensitive practices, community sustainability and planning for the future. 

The mayor hopes the summit becomes the city ’s contribution to the Philippines in terms of tourism advancement, environmental protection and investment promotion, even as he foresees it will create positive impact for tourism and business opportunities.

This is being envisioned to become a yearly event with other local government units in the country eyed as next host.

Some 1,000 delegates from all over the country and abroad are expected to attend the summit to be graced by President Benigno S. Aquino III who will deliver the keynote address on June 1.

Various international funding agencies and organizations have been invited to learn more about river initiatives and best practices implemented in several countries with a total of 34 speakers, 95 percent of them foreigners present their scientific papers to delegates.

They will also be treated to a tour of the Iloilo Wetlands and Bird Sanctuary, Iloilo River Esplanade Project and heritage areas of metropolis June 1.

The city’s major asset is now shining in the global environmental spotlight and it is but high time that we Ilonggos should take a closer look and dig deeper into its preservation to make it as a lasting legacy for the next generation.